Restored coaches to take passengers on Old Line rail adventure

Passengers wait at the Etowah Depot to board a special train excursion over the Old Line as part of Etowah's Golden Jubilee in 1956. Vintage passenger coaches, reconditioned by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, will be used as part of a June 27 rail journey commemorating the 125th anniversary of the completion of the Old Line, which connects Etowah to Copper Hill by a looping route through the Cherokee National Forest.

ETOWAH, Tenn. -- Restored vintage coaches are preparing to take passengers on a railway trip through time as part of the 125th anniversary of the completion of the Old Line Railroad, which connects Etowah to Copperhill by way of a looping and scenic journey across the Cherokee National Forest and Hiwassee Gorge.

The June 27 "Anniversary Special" train ride is part of the Etowah Historical Commission's celebration of the Old Line's impact on Southeast Tennessee and Northeast Georgia, said Linda Caldwell of the Etowah Depot Museum.

Tickets are moving fast for the commemorative train trip, which will include passengers dressed in early 20th Century clothing, said Nancy Dalton, tourism and marketing coordinator for the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association.

If you go

* Coach tickets are $60, First Class/Algonquin Observation Section tickets are $90 and First Class/Algonquin Dome Section tickets are $110. All tickets include a pre-departure continental breakfast and a private tour of a new exhibit, "Mileposts Through Time: A History of the Old Line Railroad."* Passengers will disembark for a midday layover in Copperhill.* Contact the Etowah Depot Museum at 423-263-7840 for tickets or more information.

"I'm just very excited about this event," she said. "I believe it will generate local interest in the Etowah Depot's history."

While many tourists take the slow train ride through the 8,000-foot-long Great Hiwassee Loop of the Old Line Railroad, the anniversary ride seeks to engage passengers with the historical importance of the railroad industry that created Etowah in 1906, Dalton said.

The Old Line, built in 1890, was part of an economic development project intended to revive the flow of copper, timber, marble and other minerals from Copperhill, Caldwell said.

"Building the Old Line proved to be a monumental task, but on June 29, 1890, a train filled with dignitaries took the first ride on the new railroad," she said.

The "Anniversary Special" will retrace their ride, which newspaper accounts described as a "grand occasion," she said.

Caldwell said much of the rugged and mountainous path for the Old Line Railroad had to be "gouged out" by convict labor and hand tools.

The reconditioned passenger coaches offer history lessons of their own.

The "Algonquin," a Canadian Pacific Railroad coach that features a glass dome and a lower deck observation section, was built as part of a set honoring Canada's national parks and will serve as the First Class Car on the "Anniversary Special," Caldwell said.

The L&N "Hummingbird," Missouri Pacific "Grill Car" and Southern "Pullman Car" also will be part of the commemorative and winding trip through the Hiwassee Gorge, Caldwell said. The L&N and Missouri Pacific cars were built in the 1940s, while the Southern coach was built in 1911 and reconfigured in the early 1950s, she said.

Linda's husband, Jim, a former conductor who rode "The Loop" before the closure of the Old Line route by CSX nearly 15 years ago, said passengers are in for some quite interesting sightseeing.

"Sometimes I felt like I ought to have paid the railroad for letting me make that trip," Jim Caldwell said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at